Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Rooney Rule

As the NFL's regular season comes to an end so too will the tenure of perhaps 6 head coaches. Though no one has been fired yet, it is likely that the current coaches of Oakland, Miami, Cleveland, Cincinnati, San Francisco and Denver (the final two are working with interim head coaches) and perhaps more will be dismissed.

And when they are, the so-called coaching carousel will begin. But because this is the NFL, the process of finding a new head coach must include an interview with a minority candidate.

It's the Rooney Rule, which was instituted eight years ago. During that time (and I think this figure is accurate), 12 minorities have become head coaches in the NFL. But requiring a team's president or general manager to interview a minority is one thing, following the spirit of it is something else. As the Sacramento Bee reports,
You've seen the "Rooney Rule" invoked recently, particularly in reference to the 49ers' search for a general manager. Owner Jed York interviewed Tony Softli, a former St. Louis Rams executive. But not really. Softli is African American, so York met the NFL's Rooney Rule requirement of interviewing someone who's a minority. Dispensed with that, now on with the show.
In Dallas, for his head coaching job, Jerry Jones is interviewing receivers coach Ray Sherman, a candidate he isn't taking seriously. But he gets the obligation out of the way.
Or is he talking to Sherman? Consider what the Fort Worth Star-Telegram is reporting:
The Cowboys can't name Garrett until they interview a minority candidate, and receivers coach Ray Sherman, who is a minority, denied Sunday that he has interviewed with Jerry Jones. John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said Sunday that the Cowboys have not complied with the Rooney Rule yet. Wooten said he would be "disappointed" if the Cowboys had interviewed Sherman on Saturday night, which is what Michael Lombardi of the NFL Network reported. Wooten said that would qualify as a "sham" interview, considering it was the night before a game and not a formal interview.
Meanwhile, Jones' intentions became clearer tonight as multiple reports indicate his interim coach, Jason Garrett, who is Caucasian, will be named the permanent coach. Naming Garrett without a legitimate interview with a minority candidate could lead to a substantial fine.

The circumstances in Minnesota are different. There the interim coach, Leslie Frazier, is African-American, and the franchise appears ready to name him the permanent coach. So, there's no problem. Right? Sort of, because
...what happens when the guy they want is already a minority? Do they have to call in a white guy for appearances' sake? Or Ron Rivera?

Nope. If the Vikings want Frazier, and he wants the Vikings, the job's his. The situation has come up twice before, with Jim Caldwell and the just-fired Mike Singletary. The situations were different — Caldwell was Tony Dungy's handpicked successor, and Singletary was the fiery interim coach who earned the job with a strong showing — but neither team had to interview any other candidates. (Full report here.)

One name who would be attractive no matter his ethnicity is the aforementioned Rivera, San Diego's defensive coordinator. At least one report suggests Rivera will be interviewed soon by the Carolina Panthers, who finished the season with a league-worst 2-14 record and announced a couple of days ago that their current coach will not be back in 2011.

Rivera is sure to be interviewed by multiple teams and the (unfortunate) lingering question will be whether it's being done for substance or for show.

So, what do we make of the Rooney Rule? There is no denying that it continues to call attention to the need of expanding the potential coaching pool. And there's no doubt that some (an exact figure would be impossible to project) minority head coaches would not be in their spots if the rule had not been instituted. The bottom line is that it works and it has been good for the NFL.

But what do you do when an organization interviews someone simply to meet the letter, though not the spirit, of an important league rule?

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